Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part IV)

The official reformation of ELO came in 2000 when Jeff Lynne worked on creating the box set Flashback, a three-disc retrospective covering the entirety of their career and including a number of unreleased rarities. It also included a new version of the song “Xanadu”, formerly a 1980 single with Olivia Newton-John on vocals. This is the one you want if you’re looking for a great selection with the addition of excellent deep cuts as well.

Lynne would follow this up in 2001 with the first new ELO album proper since 1986 entitled Zoom. This was essentially an all-new lineup (although original keyboardist Richard Tandy does show up on a track) and included many guest musicians, including Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Though it was not a chart hit, their fans did indeed welcome them back, especially as they did tour for this record. Also in 2001, Lynne worked again with Harrison on his final album recorded shortly before his death, Brainwashed. He would honor his friend’s passing in November 2002 at the Concert for George.

Lynne however went quiet for the rest of the decade, focusing instead on a major remaster/rerelease project of all of ELO’s studio albums via the Harvest and Epic Legacy labels. Many of these contained extra tracks, including outtakes, b-sides, and unreleased songs. Several best-of compilations were also released over the years, many of them unfortunately so similar in tracking to the point of redundancy that they’re interchangeable.

But in 2012, Lynne okayed a new collection called Mr Blue Sky: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra, in which his best songs have been rerecorded mostly on his own. While this could have been a throwaway, or done as a song ownership/copyright measure, this was purely done out of Lynne listening to some of his own classics and realizing he improve on them, now that he had better technology. The end result is a twelve-track curio that might not be essential, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

This led to several live shows and a new interest in ELO’s music, and a few years later in 2015, Lynne reformed the band once more, this time under the moniker Jeff Lynne’s ELO, and set about recording completely new music. The result was the absolutely stellar Alone in the Universe, a record that perfectly captures their late 70s heyday with dreamy melodies, smart songwriting and even the occasional ‘Beatlesque’ hook. The preview single “When I Was a Boy”, a song (and video) that essentially tells his life’s musical story, and would fit perfectly on Out of the Blue. The album was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and paved the way for a major tour.

The tour itself would include a stay at the Wembley Arena in London, and its June 2017 show would be filmed and recorded for the film and live album Wembley Or Bust. While live albums and films can be hit or miss, this one’s very entertaining and well worth checking out. [NOTE: This live album was another on heavy rotation during my writing sessions for In My Blue World, and its version of “Xanadu” was the impetus for the story itself.]

Two years later in late 2019, he would follow up with a second album, From Out of Nowhere. This was to be followed up by another world tour, but was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. The record may not have had as much of the lasting strength as the previous studio record had because of that, but it did gain favorable reviews and did hit the top of the charts in the UK.


ELO has received many honors over the years including their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017; and in 2020, Jeff Lynne himself was honored an OBE for his contribution to music. And now in 2021, many online streaming services are celebrating the band’s fiftieth anniversary with several new unique playlists to enjoy (including one playful set featuring songs that use the vocoder!) and rereleases to buy.

This band may sometimes be dismissed as cheesy and dated, too much of a late-era Beatles clone, or worse, but they have a long and extremely broad legacy to back them up. Their songs have been covered, sampled, riffed, used in soundtracks, and their classical-meets-pop style has inspired many other bands past and present. And the Birmingham boy with the guitar, the shades, the falsetto, and the unruly poof of dark and curly hair is instantly recognizable to everyone. They’ve inspired so many musicians that critics will describe some songs as having an “ELO style”. They’ve been around for a lifetime, but their songs are ageless and amazing.

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part III)

ELO effectively broke up in July of 1986 once Jeff Lynne’s contractual obligations were over, and he spent the next several years working closely with many of his musical friends as a producer. His biggest project was with ex-Beatle George Harrison on his 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine. George himself hadn’t released a record in five years (the last being 1982’s meandering Gone Troppo) and what better than to introduce his new sound with someone who knew exactly how his former band sounded? It definitely has Lynne’s signature sound all over it, but it only complements Harrison’s new fresh sound. It was a huge hit and remains a favorite — and its first single “Got My Mind Set On You” still gets occasional airplay. Its second single, a nod to Harrison’s younger years in the Beatles, is a perfect mix of Harrison psychedelia and Lynne dreaminess.

Harrison enjoyed the success of his album and had been planning to record a b-side with a few of his musician friends, including Lynne, but the end result was so fun and radio-friendly that they made a full album together under the name The Traveling Wilburys alongside Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. Lynne and Petty were the youngest in the group and it must have blown their minds to be working so closely with their musical heroes. They would record two records together.

But Lynne was only getting started. He’d also worked with Orbison solo on his Mystery Girl album, Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever, and wrote several songs for others. And in 1990 he released his first solo album, Armchair Theatre, and in 1991 he worked with Petty again with the Heartbreakers album Into the Great Wide Open, which became one of the band’s biggest sellers.

And then he got to work with the Beatles, his favorite band ever.

In 1994, when Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reconvened to work on the Anthology project, they’d had in mind that they’d record some new music under the hallowed name — the first new music by the band in twenty-five years — and Lynne was a perfect choice. He knew and understood their sound and could co-produce it without stepping on anyone’s shoes, history or egos. The plan was to take three songs that John Lennon had written and recorded in rough demo form in the late 70s, with Yoko Ono’s blessings. Two songs were recorded, “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love”, and both were huge hits and added to the official discography.

Lynne would keep busy through the rest of the decade continuing his production and songwriting work, with the likes of Tom Jones, Roger McGuinn, Joe Cocker, and Paul McCartney on his Flaming Pie record.

Meanwhile…the rest of the band did not disappear from view. Drummer Bev Bevan, bassist Kelly Groucutt and violintist Mik Kaminski created their own version of the ELO brand with Electric Light Orchestra Part II, with vocals provided by Eric Troyer. While not exactly a chart success, they did retain the classic pop-with-strings ELO sound, and the albums are worth checking out. Bevan would leave the line-up after the second album, but Troyer and Kaminski have continued the project under its new name, The Orchestra, which is still alive and thriving as a touring band.


Coming soon: Part IV, in which Lynne revives the ELO name once again, with several compilations and new recordings!

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part II)

…not to be confused with the Lynne-less ELO Part II, led by longtime drummer Bev Bevan, of course…more on that in a few. ANYWAY!

After the middling success of Discovery — while a strong and solid album, many critics felt it was a bit too poppy and dance-friendly — Jeff Lynne and the band were asked to write several songs for what was initially a lower-budget roller-disco movie somewhat inspired by an old classic called Down to Earth, about an otherworldly muse that comes down from the heavens to inspire a down-on-his-luck artist. After several rewrites, the addition of Olivia Newton-John in the muse role and Gene Kelly as the artist’s mentor and friend, Xanadu dropped in late June 1980 as a fun cheeseball summer flick. The movie bombed severely for many reasons (an extremely wobbly script for one, and supremely cheesy effects for another), but its soundtrack, featuring ONJ songs on one side and ELO songs on the other, remains a classic. And yes, it is considered a so-bad-it’s-great cult classic. You’ve got to love the terrible 80s-ness of it all:

…although there is the saving grace of a wonderful Don Bluth-animated sequence!

Regardless of its utter cheesiness, nine-year-old me was utterly obsessed with the movie and the soundtrack. Its magical-girl-from-another-world story fascinated me and even then inspired me to want to write a story like that. It would take me multiple decades to do so, of course, but that was one of the many movies that jumpstarted my interest in writing fiction.

So. What do you do to follow up something like that? Well, you return to your classic prog tendencies and write another concept album, of course! Time was Lynne’s foray into pure science fiction, about a man wakes up to find himself over a hundred years into the future with no way of returning, and trying to make sense of the world he’s been sent to. It’s not a weird album compared to other ELO records, but it definitely stuck out from most other records of the era. It’s not the most popular, but it’s universally loved by many fans. And if anything, it’s got a hell of a great rockin’ first single, “Hold On Tight”.

Its second single, “Twilight”, stalled in the mid-30s on the UK and US charts, but two years later it would reach cult status as the unauthorised soundtrack for the opening animation for DAICON IV, a science fiction convention in Osaka, Japan. [The fledgling animators themselves, including Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame, would soon create the well-known anime studio Gainax.] This film has become so iconic and popular that in 2005 for the TV version of the popular Densha Otoko (Train Man), the animated opening credits is a nod to the original.

[As I’ve mentioned before, both Xanadu and Time were a major influence and inspiration for my novel In My Blue World. Part of the idea for it came from my melding the two album’s themes together — the magical girl changing fate and the mental strain of time travel — and both albums got significant play while I wrote it. If you are interested, the e-book is available at Smashwords.]

In 1983, Lynne wished to release a double album, but the US label (CBS) nixed the idea and released the one-disc Secret Messages instead. This is a very underrated album in that it doesn’t get nearly as much love as most of ELO’s earlier albums, but it is extremely enjoyable and contains quite a few strong tunes such as “Rock ‘n’ Roll Is King” and the title song. I highly suggest checking out the 2018 reissue that returns the album to its double-disc original idea and gives it an even stronger flow.

Lynne would then spend the next couple of years working as a producer for other musicians and bands, including Dave Edmunds (including his surprise hit “Slipping Away”), the Everly Brothers and ABBA’s Agnetha Fältskog, as well as providing music for another quirky film called Electric Dreams, before reconvening with ELO on 1986’s Balance of Power. Essentially a contractual obligation album for his label, it’s not one of their strongest records and is often overlooked due to its slick sound and lack of popular singles, but it does contain the catchy single “Calling America”, which did get considerable airplay regardless.

ELO, for all intents and purposes, disbanded at the end of 1986 after a minor tour. Lynne jumped full-time into music production…and unexpected major success working with one of his childhood heroes on not one but three projects!


Coming next Tuesday: post-ELO solo and production work, revisiting old classics, and rebuilding the band – twice!

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra (Part I)

I’ve spoken about this band many times before and I’m sure I’ll do it again, but ELO remains one of my favorite bands from my childhood that Wasn’t The Beatles (well, almost not the Beatles, anyway…heh). And while its singer Jeff Lynne celebrates the band’s 50th anniversary with multiple Apple and Spotify playlists, it’s interesting to see how this band evolved over its long career. And since it is a long career, it’s gonna take a few posts to check it all out!

The idea of ELO was actually not Lynne’s but of singer Roy Wood, who at the time was the leader of The Move. He’d been the one to come up with the idea of mixing strings and classical elements with the rock format, and Lynne was more than delighted to join in on this project. As it happened, Wood only remained for the band’s self-titled 1971 debut (renamed ‘No Answer’ in the US due to a communication misunderstanding) and the mood seems very proggy here, but you can already hear the seeds of Lynne’s ‘Beatlesque’ pop style of songwriting.

Their second album, simply entitled Electric Light Orchestra II and released in 1973 after a significant lineup change, suffered from similar prog meanderings, though it did score a surprise hit with a rocking cover of “Roll Over Beethoven”, featuring a clever insertion of the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

Album three, On the Third Day (also from 1973), showed they were almost there. The extended prog ideas were slowly phased out to focus more on tighter and shorter melodies (but not without a few fun forays into classical, including an interesting take on Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”). The single “Showdown”, added to the US editions of the album, ended up breaking them towards a wider mainstream audience.

Now album four, 1974’s Eldorado, was where they really hit their stride. An odd yet extremely entertaining concept album about a daydreamer with an eye-catching cover still from The Wizard of Oz, it features their next big single, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” which became a rock and pop radio staple. I distinctly remember hearing this on the local AM pop station as a kid. [Also worth checking out is one of my favorite ELO deep cuts, “Mister Kingdom”, which ended up being the song I used as Krozarr’s theme in In My Blue World.]

They followed it up one year later with Face the Music in 1975, and by this time Lynne and the band had perfected their odd hybrid and started having numerous hit singles and radio hits through the rest of the decade.

In 1976 they dropped A New World Record, which sounded even more Beatlesque than anything else they’d done previously. Gorgeous ballads like “Telephone Line” hinted at McCartney’s best on Abbey Road, “Livin’ Thing” hinted at the complex experimentation of Sgt Pepper, and the silly yet fun “Rockaria!” harkened back to the hard-rocking covers of Beatles for Sale.

And then, in 1977, they dropped their double album opus, Out of the Blue, which many still consider to be their crowning achievement. It featured several hit singles, it was a multi-platinum seller, and it even features a weather-themed four-song concerto! There are so many famous and well-loved songs on this one that if you had to buy only one ELO record, this would definitely be the one. [This was one of two of their albums that influenced and inspired my novel In My Blue World. The title of the novel itself comes from the single and opening track “Turn to Stone”.]

And of course, the massive hit single and fan favorite “Mr. Blue Sky” was used to absolutely hilarious effect as the opening credits for 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.

They’d bring the seventies to a close with a bright and shimmery album called Discovery in 1979. It was by far their most commercial sounding record, with the strings mostly sliding into the background and the danceable rock melodies coming to the fore, including radio favorites “Don’t Bring Me Down” and “Shine a Little Love”. Interestingly, the band created promotional videos for every single track on the album, which are available on YouTube.


So what would the 80s bring this band…? More hits, a killer half-soundtrack to a lemon of a movie, a cult-classic concept album about time travel, and eventually dissolution. But Lynne didn’t necessarily stop there, nor did he drop off the face of the earth! Stay tuned!

Writing Time

As I’d mentioned elsewhere, I’ll be quite busy this month working on revision for In My Blue World I’ll do my best to continue posting here regularly, though!  The entries might not be as intensive as normal, but never fear, I’ll always provide you with some fun tunage!

For now, I’ve got a bit of revision prep work to do these first few days of the month that’s gonna keep me occupied, so I’ll leave you with a few ELO tracks that inspired my new novel.

I’ll be doing my usual month-in-review post of June’s releases on Thursday and the Twenty/Thirty Years On series next week.  Thanks for waiting!

Favorite Bands: Electric Light Orchestra

This past week, Jeff Lynne released the first single from Electric Light Orchestra’s first album of new tracks in fourteen years, and fans have been squeeing with delight at the new song “When I Was a Boy”, because it sounds so much like the classic ELO from the mid to late 70s that we all know so well.  Lynne will totally admit to being heavily influenced by the Beatles during his initial 70s tenure, and you can definitely hear it in their songs.  It’s no surprise he was tapped by George Harrison for the Traveling Wilburys project as well as the Beatles Anthology.

I remember hearing some of the singles early on, like “Showdown”, “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”, “Evil Woman” and “Telephone Line” on the family stereo, but it wasn’t until 1977’s Out of the Blue that I realized how much I liked the band.  One of my sisters had picked up the single for “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” (which was pressed on clear pink vinyl!) and soon after my parents bought us the album for Christmas.  It’s a classic double-album with solid songwriting throughout. It also contains a “mini-opera”, entitled “Concerto for a Rainy Day”, which takes up Side 3 of the album and ends with one of their most well-known hits, “Mr. Blue Sky.”

From there I followed the band to their next album, 1979’s Discovery, with the hit single “Don’t Bring Me Down”, as well as their inclusion in the latter half of the Xanadu soundtrack the next year.  [The movie was interesting in idea but is deeply flawed in delivery, and has not aged well at all.  All that aside, ELO did manage to score some excellent Don Bluth animation with the “Don’t Walk Away” segment!]

The next album, 1981’s Time, was quite the departure from all of the above, and thus was a bit of a headscratcher for many, but I’ve always considered it one of my favorite ELO albums, just below Out of the Blue.  It’s a concept album about a man time-traveling over a hundred years into the future, unable to return to his own timeline, and coming to terms with this unexpected change.  There are a number of great tracks on this one, including the top-ten single “Hold On Tight”:

Another single worth noting is “Twilight”, which only hit the lower half of the charts in most countries.  I for one hadn’t known about it until I heard it way on the back end of a radio station’s year-end countdown, and thought…how the hell did I miss this one??  It’s a fantastic track with crashing drums, a driving beat, and sci-fi tinged lyrics.  In Japan it became a cult favorite as it was used (without permission, though I believe Lynne thought it was awesome and let them fly with it) in 1983 for the opening animation for that country’s science fiction convention, Daicon IV.

The animation was done by a group of diehard SF fans who soon became the anime company Gainax, now known internationally as the production team behind Neon Genesis EvangelionGunbuster and FLCL, just to name a few.  It’s a classic piece of Japanese animation worth watching.  Try to see how many well-known SF characters (and tropes, and spaceships!) you can recognize here!

ELO’s last few albums, Secret Messages (1983) and Balance of Power (1986) did not fare nearly as well as their previous output, but they’re still solid albums with the signature Jeff Lynne sound, with songs such as the twangy “Rock and Roll Is King”, the dreamy “Secret Messages”, and their last hit of the 80s, “Calling America”:

Lynne would retire the ELO moniker after that album (drummer Bev Bevan would continue with Lynne’s okay as “ELO Part II” for most of the 90s) and would turn to music production (and releasing two solo albums).  He briefly reignited the ELO name in 2001 with the Zoom album with the minor single “Alright”, but returned to producing soon after.

Over the years I managed to pick up their back catalog, and found it just as intriguing as their more well-known tracks.  The first three albums (The Electric Light Orchestra, ELO 2 and On the Third Day) are more prog-rock affairs that featured a mix of baroque strings, electric blues and lengthy suites, but it was the fourth album Eldorado that attracted the attention of new fans, with its more Beatlesque pop balladry.  Their star would continue to rise with Face the Music and A New World Record, until finally hitting it big internationally with Out of the Blue.

There are countless album tracks worth seeking out as well from this band:  Eldorado’s “Mister Kingdom”Face the Music‘s “Fire On High”Out of the Blue‘s “Summer and Lightning” and even the light and fanciful “The Diary of Horace Wimp” from Discovery are just a few of many great tracks from the band worth checking out.  They’re always entertaining, and always creative.